Courage and conviction: two of the ingredients Hong Kong’s young need to set up a business

Veteran Japanese businessman Masaaki Ogino, who brought Prada to Hong Kong, says that young people shouldn’t let the fear of failure stop them from starting up a business

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 12:15pm

For Masaaki Ogino, it all boils down to courage.The veteran Japanese entrepreneur, known as the man who brought the Prada brand to Hong Kong 30 years ago and the force behind the City’super luxury supermarket chain, said the younger generation lack the courage to strike out on their own.

“Nowadays, there are many young people who have good ideas but they are not brave enough to take the risks to do business because they are too afraid of losing money should the business collapse,” Ogino said in an exclusive interview with The South China Morning Post.

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“Many young people want to get jobs in big companies with high salaries and benefits, which does not carry any risk. This is why most Japanese in Hong Kong are working for big firms such as Nomura, Daiwa or Sony.”

Such attitudes do not only apply to Japanese, but also Hong Kong youngsters, he said.

The 74-year old chairman of fashion company Fenix Group, which has been in business in Hong Kong for 50 years, said the city remains a good place to do business because of its low tax rates and its rule of law.

Nowadays, there are many young people who have good ideas but they are not brave enough to take the risks to do business because they are too afraid of losing money should the business collapse
Masaaki Ogino

To that end, in 2014 he set up Wakyokai, a non-profit organisation aimed at advising and informing any among the around 26,000 Japanese in Hong Kong who might want to establish a business of their own in the city.

“I am surprised to see there are so few young Japanese setting up business here in Hong Kong, which is a very good place to set up your own business. I hope Wakyokai can make a difference,” he said.

Two years on, it has helped four young Japanese entrepreneurs to establish themselves here. They are now variously running an ice cream shop, a ballet school, a wine importer and a Japanese language school.

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“It was a good start but I want to see more. I also want to see more Japanese in Shanghai or other parts of China set up their own businesses,” Ogino said.

He said when he was young, society was not as rich as now, but there were more young people with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“When I was young, I did not have much money. I spoke terrible English when I first arrived in Hong Kong in 1966,” Ogino said. “However, I still achieved my dream to set up my own business here.”

That first trip to Hong Kong came when Ogino was 24, when he was sent by a Japanese trading company which wanted him to set up an office in the city.

At that time, he said, “there were many people talking about setting up businesses. There were many Chinese or Japanese who wanted to set up a business so that they did not need to listen to a boss. Back then, many would prefer to set up a small firm so that they could control everything and make all the business decisions. Nowadays, such a spirit has gone,” he said.

When Ogino was 29, his company decided to leave Hong Kong, but he opted to stay on. He began the Fenix Group after a management buyout and with just five staff.

He expanded the company into the manufacture of knitwear and clothes for Japanese department stores and retailers. He set up factories in Tai Kok Tsui and San Po Kong and later moved into the mainland following its opening to outside business from around 1978.

Five decades on, his company still manufactures men’s and women’s wear and is one of the biggest suppliers for Japanese fashion retailers.

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“The Japanese retailers are very demanding on quality but then they are willing to pay a premium on products which are up to standard,” Ogino said. “As a Japanese myself, I understand what they want and other rivals cannot easily compete.”

Besides manufacturing, he is most well known for bringing the Prada brand to Hong Kong in 1986.

“Prada then mainly had bags and shoes but now it has a wide range of products. It later expanded into fashion. I have confidence in the brand and acted as its distributor from 1986 until 2000,” he said.

Because he was busy with the manufacturing business, he asked his wife Izumi to help running Prada.

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“I need to thank my wife. At that time she was a housewife and had never worked before. But then, she was willing to take on the challenge and help to bring Prada to Hong Kong. She later dealt with another brand, Anteprima, in 1993, which has since become a deluxe brand,” he said.

He later extended his reach by financing others who were setting up businesses. He invested in the high-end food, beverage and lifestyle chain store City’super in 1996 and was its majority shareholder. The brand has been successful in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland.

Ogino recalled it only took him three days to decide to invest in City’super after listening to a presentation. The idea was given to him by a group of managers who had formerly worked with the Japanese department store Seibu, which pulled out of Hong Kong at the time.

“I think the concept is very good because Hong Kong has a growing number of middle class people who want to enjoy life. High-end food, wine and other lifestyle products are what they need and that was exactly what City’super can offer,” he said.